Board's Vote Puts Commuter Rail Plan In Jeopardy

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A proposed commuter rail line from Cleveland to Akron is in jeopardy after the governing board of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study voted against it.

Planning organizations in Cuyahoga and Stark counties could still push for commuter rail service, but there is no interest in Summit County, said Ken Hanson, executive director of the transportation agency.

Hanson said the $170 million project was hurt by a consultant's draft report that said the rail line would provide few benefits to Summit County and attract few riders.

The report also said the cost of developing commuter rail would be high and would not reduce traffic congestion along Interstate 77.

The plan, nine years in development, called for five trains heading from Bedford Heights to Cleveland weekday mornings and returning at night.

There also would have been two morning runs from northern Akron to Cleveland with two trains returning at night.

A trip from Akron to Cleveland would have cost $3 one way and taken about an hour. The study projected 2,700 daily riders.

The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers is angry with the transportation agency's decision.

"This was an ambush, plain and simple," association vice president Ken Prendergast said.

He said there is widespread support for the project in northeast Ohio.

"If we don't build commuter rail, then we'll have to spend even more taxpayers' dollars to acquire land, demolish homes and add more expensive lanes to some highways just to handle rush-hour traffic," he said.

A consulting firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff in Cleveland, had suggested that northeast Ohio look at commuter rail between Akron and Cleveland, along with $629 million in highway improvements to reduce traffic congestion.

The firm spent three years on the $2.5 million study, which was funded with federal and state money.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)